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Tantric Initiation

The theory and practice of the Tantric mandala operates on a mesocosmic level, that
is, on the level of a mediating template between protocosm and metacosm as well as
between macrocosm and microcosm. Quite often, Tantric practitioners will project
the mandala upon the internal grid of the "heart," the subtle or yogic body, or a
body that has been modified to embody enlightenment. This process of
internalization generally begins with initiation, which plays two complementary
roles. On the one hand, it transforms a biologically given individual into a vessel
capable of receiving, channeling, or actualizing the divine energy of the godhead;
on the other, it initiates her or him into a particular Tantric lineage and body of
teachings that extend back, through the guru or lama and his predecessors, to the
godhead itself. Initiation is effected by the teacher, who has been previously
transformed and empowered through his own initiation (diksa) and consecration
(abhiseka), who plants in the initiate's body a "seed" or "seme" of the essence of
the godhead. This seed takes a number of forms, ranging from a drop of bodily or
sexual fluid to a mantra, a photic image, or a drop or seed of consciousness
14 DAVID GORDON WHITE
or the bodhisattva's "thought of enlightenment" (bodhicitta). Vital breath (prana)
is generally the dynamic element in this transfer, just as it is in the animation
of external images for worship and the internal practices of yoga. Through this
"insemination" process, the guru or lama makes the initiate a part of the flow
chart of the Tantric lineage, which radiates outward in mandala fashion from the
godhead or buddhahood that is its center and source. In many Tantric traditions,
this process involves a transfer of the guru or lama's feminine energy (sakti) or
wisdom (prajna) into his disciple. The form that that transfer takes, ranging from
the actual participation of a female consort in ritual sex to more sublimated
transfers effected through food (yogurt, for example), mantras, or other media,
varies according to tradition. The pivotal and transformative role of the guru in
initiation has led to an equation in most Tantric traditions between guru and
godhead, and meditation will often involve visualizing the guru as god at the
center of the mandala. This very concrete notion of lineage is so fundamental to
Tantra in the Tibetan tradition that two similar terms (both pronounced gyr) are
used for "teaching linege," "genealogical lineage," and "Tantra" in the Tibetan
language. Similarly, in Indian Hindu and Buddhist Tantra, the term kula ("family,"
"clan") is applied to the entire mandala [Brooks]: initiation into the mandala is
initiation into the divine family of Siva, Vajradhara, and so on, and the mandala
of the monastery constitutes a sort of microcosmic household (Samuel 1993: 150-51).
This intimate relationship between spiritual lineage and biological lineage is
based in no small part in socioreligious reality; very often, one is initiated into
a Tantric tradition by one's biological father. The same rule often applies at the
state level; lineages of princes and kings are initiated by parallel lineages of
royal Tantric gurus, with the lineage god or goddess of both king and priest - that
is, the deity at the heart of the mandala - being the same for both. In cases of
theocratic government, as in Tibet, the interpenetration of biological, spiritual,
and royal lines become more pronounced.